Ginger Goepper only spoke to Ron DeSantis for 15 seconds in the summer of 2018, but the environmental advocate managed to secure an on-camera pledge from the Republican to ban fracking in Florida if he became governor.
He kept that promise after he won.
More than five years later, Goepper was “shocked” and “irritated” to learn that the brief exchange is now featured in a new political ad airing in Iowa that suggests DeSantis harbors progressive environmental views. The commercial is the latest attempt by DeSantis’ Republican presidential rivals to target his energy record for Iowans ahead of the January caucuses.
DeSantis, over a near 11-year career in elected office, has staked out positions on energy production reflective of the political philosophies that guided him at the time. But as a candidate for president, some of those stances are complicating his efforts to convince Republicans he would kickstart a domestic energy boom if elected president, and he has labored to explain how his views have evolved.
In the new ad – paid for by a super PAC aligned with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – Goepper can be seen grasping DeSantis’ hands and asking if he would “support banning fracking in Florida.” Those last two words are hard to hear over the crowd and are excluded in the on-screen captioning, creating the false impression that DeSantis supports a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” a method for extracting natural gas.
The clip appears twice in the 30-second ad.
“It really is unethical, and it’s unfair to take a specific reference to Florida out of context,” Goepper told CNN on Tuesday. “And don’t think I’m in his fan club. I haven’t given one penny to him. But they’re putting words in his mouth.”
Haley and her allies are not alone in targeting DeSantis’ energy record. Any time former President Donald Trump steps foot in the Hawkeye State, he is likely to mention DeSantis’ previous opposition to ethanol subsidies, a top concern of corn farmers there.
In response to the latest ad from SFA Fund, Inc., the pro-Haley super PAC, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said the governor had released “the most detailed energy plan of any candidate in this race to restore American energy dominance.” DeSantis has said his plan would lower the cost of gas to $2 a gallon by 2025.
“Nikki Haley, on the other hand, supported a massive gas tax increase as governor of South Carolina,” Griffin said, “and would be a disaster for the wallets of working families.”
SFA Fund spokeswoman Brittany Yanick did not address Goepper’s concern but stood by the ad in a statement to CNN, saying DeSantis was “trying to rewrite history.” Yanick confirmed that the super PAC is spending “hundreds of thousands” of dollars to air the ad in Iowa.
“You can expect to see more of that sort of information and material from us as we move forward,” Mark Harris, lead strategist for the super PAC, said Tuesday in a call with reporters.
Tea party beginnings
Before DeSantis was even a candidate, Trump had made ethanol subsidies a focal point of his efforts in Iowa, where half the state’s corn ends up as fuel and agriculture is central to local economies and the way of life. Trump told a crowd there in March that DeSantis while in the US House “fought against it at every turn, and he’s going to do that again.”
As a tea party conservative DeSantis regularly raised concerns about special interests while serving in the US House. In 2015, he authored an amendment to end the renewable fuel standard, the federal policy that has resulted in the inclusion of ethanol from corn in most gasoline sold in the US.
When the amendment failed to get a vote in the GOP-controlled House, DeSantis published an op-ed on a conservative website that attacked his own party, calling the lack of consideration “a great example at how Washington is wired to put its interests ahead of those of the taxpayer.” He described the ethanol mandate as “venture socialism” and a “harmful policy that damages car and boat engines, hurts the environment, reduces fuel efficiency and places an upward pressure on gas and food prices.”
“The American taxpayers pay for a policy that richly rewards producers of ethanol and the D.C. lobbyists paid to guard this special treatment,” DeSantis wrote.